California’s measure to give egg-laying hens more space to move was challenged this week by Missouri’s Attorney General, who filed a lawsuit over the new law claiming it poses an unfair burden to his state’s farmers.
In 2008, California voters approved a ballot measure, otherwise known as Prop 2, that was intended to improve the lives of farm animals by requiring that egg-laying hens, pigs and calves be raised in enclosures that offered them enough space to allow them to lie down, stand up, turn around and fully extend their limbs. After it passed, farmers were given until January 1, 2015 to update their facilities to comply with the new law.
Following Prop 2′s passage, concerns were raised that the move would give out-of-state producers who could continue to sell cheap eggs from battery hens an advantage over California’s producers, so in 2010 the state banned the sale of eggs from all producers that don’t meet the state’s standards for egg production.
Passage of Prop 2 was a historic victory for farm animals who get little protection under current laws, but getting them even the space to enjoy the simple luxury of being able to stretch was an uphill battle that continues to face threats.
Last week, the Farm Bill passed without the King Amendment, which would have limited states’ abilities to set animal care standards for farm animals and would have undone progress many areas have made on a local and state level to improve welfare and food safety, including California’s Prop 2.
That victory was short lived with Missouri’s Attorney General Chris Koster taking up the fight to kill the law by filing a federal lawsuit against the state of California that argues Prop 2 violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution by imposing requirements on out-of-state farmers.
“This case is not merely about farming practices,” Koster said in a statement. “At stake is whether elected officials in one state may regulate the practices of another state’s citizens who cannot vote them out of office. When California passes legislation that imposes new requirements or limits on Missouri businesses, it is my job to fight against it.”
Approximately 540 million of Missouri’s 1.7 billion eggs are sold to California consumers. According to Koster, Missouri’s producers will have to spend $120 million to come into compliance with the law, or they could stop selling there, which would leave them with a surplus and force some farmers out of business.
However, many still support the notion that states should have the right to pass laws that protect animals and their residents. Jennifer Fearing, the senior state director of the Humane Society of the United States in California, refuted Koster’s claims to that this has nothing to do with health or safety, noting that eggs produced from battery hens have a higher risk of being contaminated with Salmonella and that that there may be an ulterior motive at play here.
“Attorney General Koster’s lawsuit targeting California’s laws, at the cost of taxpayers’ money, just so he can curry favor with Big Agribusiness, threatens state laws across the country dealing with animal cruelty, agriculture, and food safety,”¯ she told the AP.
It’s bad enough that we have to fight just to get farm animals enough room to move, which makes it especially sad to see a state fighting so hard against humane treatment of battery hens just to stick to the status quo because it’s cheaper and requires less effort. Hopefully the court will agree, as it has in other cases. If it doesn’t it could affect our ability to keep products we find cruel, unhealthy or unsafe from coming into our states.
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